Plotting out plot

Joe’s Post #168

So, when I find something interesting, I like to share it.

Sometimes that’s like, “hey look at this weird growth on my butt, what do you think that is?”

Sometimes it’s something I find on the internet.

So check this out. A new way of looking at plotting. It comes from Oz and Ends by J.L Bell. 

A cool way to look at plotting

A cool way to look at plotting

Now the cool thing I like about this, is it looks at making the hero’s life hell in a whole different way and can be used for pretty much any part of your book. It’s sort of a rinse and repeat for writers.

heros journeySo why did this speak to me? Well, there are a ton of books and articles on how to plot. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them, the most famous being the Hero’s Journey.

But nowhere have I seen something that gets your mind thinking like this one did. It’s basically character meets conflict to create plot.

Now, sure, it doesn’t tell you how to put in backstory or when to introduce important pieces of information vital to the story, but try running that ‘plotting made simple’ template through your story and see what happens.

Or take a look at this from Jody Sparks.

Plotting by Jody Sparks

Plotting by Jody Sparks


Also, if you have some free time, check out Robert J Saywer’s latest post. Here. It’s a great read about the craft of world building and writing.

And that’s it from me. No wise words of wisdom from me about how to write, but please check out these other bloggers/writers. They’re awesome.


Surrey International Writer’s Conference – Don Maass workshop

Joe’s Post #117

IMG_6034Don Maass workshop: “Creating a World Readers Want To Live In”

Is there a workshop ‘reveal’ etiquette?

How much can I reveal without violating the sacred writer/mentor code? Is there even such a thing?

Oh, hell, I dunno. If it were me and I gave good information, I’d say repeat it to anyone who’ll listen and repeat is often.

So here I go.

First off, if you’ve never been to a Don Maass workshop as a writer, you’ve missed out on something amazing. It’s not to diminish in any way the other workshops or presenters at SiWC, but Don (can I call him Don?) is a master of making you think.

How does it do it, the clever bugger?

He sets up an idea, a different way of thinking about as aspect of writing and then rapid fires questions at you like he’s interrogating you at the border about your bag that smells like you got into a fight with a skunk.

This year, I couldn’t hit his master class, but I hear from Silk it was amazing. Emotion trumps everything. I would have loved to be there, but couldn’t make it. However, I could make his ‘Creating A World’ talk.

So, I brought my glue, my coloured pens and fancy paper to draw up landmasses, add rivers and put in dragons somewhere. But that’s not what this was about.

As he put it, that’s location. He wanted us to make worlds people want to live in.

But how, dammit, how do we do that?

First, ask yourself, why do you want to live in another world? What is it about that world that makes you long to be there? Is there depth beyond the description?

In essence, how does a place FEEL? And the way we get to the feel of a place is through our character’s eyes.

Dammit, feelings, again!

He had many suggestions on how to make a world have depth, to get to those feelings, but here are 3…

What do they eat?

What is wonderful about that world?

What is the history, the legends of the world?

But all of this, ALL must be seen through your protagonist’s eyes. How do they experience the world. Go beyond the 5 senses (that we’re all taught to include in our writing) and live in the skin of the protagonist. How do they FEEL about what they see, they hear, they smell, they taste, they touch and how does it affect them?

That creates depth. That creates a world we want to live in.

My brain caught fire as I was peppered with questions like what do they eat at weddings, what’s your protagonist’s favourite food, what does he hate, what does he love, what’s a treat, what has he always wanted but could never have, what’s comfort food, what’s his childhood food, what does he love to drink, what’s breakfast, lunch, a snack, a secret snack, dinner…?

Then, THEN Don throws something at you that can really take your story to the next level. Something like, what does your protagonist hate to eat? Can there be someone in the story who loves it? Can your protagonist come to love that thing at the end of the story?


Now imagine this going on for 90 min, give or take, and imagine examples and class feedback and lots of nose blowing (Ok, hey, I had a cold!!!).

game of thronesOk, so let’s take this idea for a test drive. Game of Thrones. What about food? Hell, there are cookbooks on the food!

What about how characters experience the world? OMG, every character, all ten thousand of them, experience a place differently. Does Geoffrey, the little psycho, see King’s Landing the same as Tyrion? Does the Hound have the same experience as Arya Stark?

What about history, legend? Do they all not live in a world where every city, every family (even the trees), have history?

You bet!

Now, is there a novel that you love, a world that you would like to visit? Does it go beyond description of places? Do you experience the place? Food? History? What’s wonderful about the world?

That’s the kind of world you want to create, right?

I gotta tell you, I went home wanting to write. Needing to write. To get that world out of my head and onto the page. To make my world another character.

Don Maass lit my brain on fire.

And how cool is that?




A sense of place

Silk’s Post #10 — Ooh, ooh, ooh, stop! Slow down, slow down. This is where I want to be. I want to enjoy this, explore everything. Oh please … I don’t want this to end …

Not dialogue from a sex scene in my novel. This was me talking to my husband Sunday morning – not in (ahem) our bedroom, but in our car as we drove south on Interstate 5 in the driving rain, on our way to California for a whirlwind family Thanksgiving rendezvous. What got me so exercised as I stared out the shotgun seat window, watching the exit signs slide by?

University of Washington

Pike Place Market, Seattle

We were driving right by my novel’s locations, the ones I’m burning to explore, understand, become intimate with. Seattle, Whidbey Island, the University of Washington campus, Puget Sound, Deception Pass and so many other tantalizing venues.

I ‘know’ these places. But I don’t KNOW these places the way I need to. I want their smells in my nose, their sounds in my ears. I want to know the shortcut from my protagonist’s apartment to her favourite restaurant, and what – exactly – she might see if she walks that route in the dead of night. I want to see the view from her window, sit in the transit shelter where she catches a bus, stand on the beach west of her family’s Whidbey Island home, and see the road where her brother had his accident.

For me, place is always one of the most important characters in any book. When I took the plunge and wrote my first novel (the one calling to me from the depths of my computer files, where it awaits a strenuous rewrite), I took the advice of many writing gurus and wrote what I know … at least in terms of location. And what I know is my adopted island home. A place locals often refer to, with fondness, as Planet Saltspring. I know my own island so well I can tell you which patch of bigleaf maple trees along the Stewart Road route from the south end to Ganges village has the best show of golden colour in the fall. And I can describe about 90 per cent of the fascinating items you’ll see at the colourful Saturday Market in Centennial Park.

I want to know the locations of my new story this well. But I wanted to stretch out beyond Saltspring. It was time for me to ‘leave home’ and write about a different setting. Seattle and Whidbey Island are not dramatically different from Vancouver and Saltspring Island, that’s true. But every place on Earth is unique, like a fingerprint. And to be a dynamic, memorable – perhaps even haunting – ‘setting character’ for a novel, that place must be authentic. A living thing.

And here we were, speeding down I-5, right past it all. No time to stop because of our breakneck schedule. I could have wept.

I am always mightily impressed by writers who can create an authentic sense of place when setting their novel in location where they’ve never lived. Maybe never even visited. What supreme confidence! To craft a memorable setting – a setting essential to the story and its characters – by drawing on research and imagination alone.

This is, to me, perhaps a more daring feat than the kind of creative world-building that makes fantasy or science fiction so appealing, as awesome as that may be in its own right. The simple reason: no one alive can really complain about how wrong you got it. With real places, every hint of inauthenticity stands out like London Bridge in the middle of a desert to a person who actually calls that place home.

World-building takes magic. Writing about real places before you really know them intimately – that takes crust.

So, as I watched my new novel’s landmarks disappear in the rearview mirror on Sunday, a sense of longing and promise gnawing at me, I made a vow. Like General Douglas MacArthur, shall return. Like the Terminator, I’ll be baahk. I will walk in my characters’ footsteps and look through their eyes at the inspiring, nuanced world in which their story plays out. I will learn what makes this ‘setting-character’ tick, experience its resonance. Bring it to life so that no one could ever mistake it for someplace else.

But not now.

Now, I just need to write and keep writing. Write, right or wrong. Take my best shot. Invent what I don’t really know. Screw stuff up, maybe. Describe things I’ve never seen and paint my settings with colours I know may be off a shade – or even laughably inaccurate.

And then, as Joe described in his fabulous Las Vegas Rewrite blog, I will revisit the scene of the crime and find out how close I came. Or didn’t. And fix accordingly.

Ah, the joys of rewrite. Another bridge to cross.

Deception Pass Bridge, Whidbey Island